Team: Central Illinois Flying Aces
Head Coach: Mike Watt, 1st season
“There’s a lot of buzz around our organization with the rebrand and the new color scheme and logo. It’s a fresh start and a great new crew coming in. We’re excited to get the season underway.”
2016-17 Record: 25-27-5-3 (58 PTS, 6th in Eastern Conference)
Top Returners: Cameron Burke, Will Garin, Calen Kiefiuk, Marko Reifenberger, Brady Smith, Zach Stejskal
Notable Additions: Regen Cavanagh, Bram Scheerer
The Flying Aces have a new look and a new head coach heading into the 2017-18 season. Former assistant coach Mike Watt takes the reigns behind the bench, and he will look to get his team back to the postseason for the first time since they fell one game short of the 2016 Clark Cup Final.
Central Illinois will look to 10 returning players to lead the way, including forwards Cameron Burke (19 PTS), the team’s leading scorer from last season, Marko Reifenberger (11 PTS) and Calen Kiefiuk (11 PTS) to take a big step from their first seasons. Regen Cavanagh also joins the team this season from the Dubuque Fighting Saints and will be a veteran presence in what will be a locker room full of young players.
The Aces’ blue line also boasts a quartet of veteran defenseman that will also be key to the team’s success this season. Bloomington native and University of Wisconsin commit Brady Smith played in 32 games for the organization last year and is poised for a big second USHL season. Simon Butala, Jason Smallidge and Charlie Raith are the other veteran defenseman who will suit up for the Aces in 2017-18, bringing just under 200 games of USHL experience between the three.
Goaltending will arguably the strongest position group on the Flying Aces roster. University of Minnesota-Duluth commit Zach Stejskal played in two games for the organization last season, posting a stellar 1.85 GAA and .936 SV% right after helping Grand Rapids High to a Class 2A Minnesota high school boys hockey state championship. Stejskal will be looking to bring last season’s success into the 2017-18 campaign. Erik Gordon, who spent last season on the team’s affiliate list, will also be in the mix after a year in which he posted a 24-3-0 record, a .928 SV% and 1.89 GAA between the NAHL’s Fairbank Ice Dogs and Lone Star Brahmas en route to him being named to the All-NAHL Second Team and NAHL All-Rookie Team.
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 16th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2017-18. 30 or more players from the USHL have been selected in five consecutive NHL Drafts, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.